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By Thomas Wheeler

The G.I. Joe team has always been known as a team of highly specialized individuals, operating as a distinct, and rather large, unit of the United States Armed Forces. Representatives from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and the Coast Guard are among its members. There is a limited amount of participation from international armed services, such as Big Ben, representing the British SAS (Special Air Service), as well as members of the Oktober Guard. In some instances, it has been apparent that the G.I. Joe team maintains a positive working relationship with teams from other countries (which are based on the international toy offerings in those countries), such as Europe's Action Force, or a couple of South American teams.

Nevertheless, these are all teams of distinct individual specialists, likely because each team is an extension, or specific division, within a far larger military organization. This is in contrast to Cobra, which, while certainly possessing a hierarchy of distinct individuals such as Cobra Commander, Destro, and the Baroness, and certain specialists such as Firefly and Major Bludd, is largely comprised, especially from a toy standpoint, of assorted specialized troopers, such as Night-Vipers, Snow Serpents, Eels, Hazard-Vipers, AVACs, Techno-Vipers, Crimson Guards, and many more. There are some basic infantry types, like Cobra Troopers and Cobra Vipers. But the point is, there's more than one of them. You can technically have as many Cobra Troopers as you can find, afford, and have space for. That doesn't really work when it comes to individual G.I. Joe team members like Roadblock or Shipwreck, distinctly different figure versions of these characters notwithstanding.

The question might arise -- are there more "generic" soldiers within G.I. Joe? And the answer to that question does not have an easy answer. Within the pages of the original Marvel Comic, the G.I. Joe team was always presented as a team of individuals, thirteen at the start, and slowly growing over time just as the toy line did. There was never any indication that the G.I. Joe team had a specific support group of less-specialized soldiers. When they needed something beyond what they had, they could call upon other military divisions to provide it, but these military divisions were not specifically part of G.I. Joe.

The Devil's Due comic book took a slightly different approach for a time. With the reinstatement of the G.I. Joe team after a lengthy absence, the major players that were brought back were accompanied by rookies, arguably soldiers who showed potential for becoming members of the G.I. Joe team, but hadn't yet earned that distinction, let alone individual code names or the right to pretty much design their own uniform. These were known collectively as "Greenshirts".

The animated series is yet another matter. Early on, it was clear that G.I. Joe had an extensive support group of basic soldiers. This simply made for better action scenes. You're not going to throw a baker's dozen of highly trained specialists up against the entire Cobra army and get away with it. As the G.I. Joe team grew in number, these basic soldiers were eventually phased out.

Another type of basic soldier reappeared in the second animated series, produced by DIC. Since this series tended to focus on more recent additions to the toy line, quite a few of the early favorite characters didn't turn up, and so DIC reintroduced the concept of the basic soldier support. For reasons which I cannot imagine the basis for, these soldiers were dressed in orange and magenta. One wonders if this was some sort of bizarre initiation-like practical joke.

Then we come to the toy line. The closest thing to a semi-generic soldier the original line had was a mail-in figure called the Steel Brigade Trooper. You could give him any code name and specialties you wanted, and a special file card would be included with him. Since the figure wore an all-covering helmet, there was no real reason that you couldn't order multiple Steel Brigade Troopers. But they weren't really all that generic. They still had code-names, and were regarded as highly specialized.

The Steel Brigade returned as part of one of the G.I. Joe Collectors' Club Convention Sets, as a two-pack of Steel Brigade Commandos. Superb figures, and rather anonymous in name, but still regarded as specialized and even rather elite. There was a specific figure called the Steel Brigade Commander. If anything, the Steel Brigade was something of the equivalent to Cobra's Crimson Guard. They were troopers, yes, but they were very specialized, elite troopers. The Steel Brigade has since returned in the modern line's offerings.

What about just plain run-of-the-mill soldiers? Something along the lines of the Greenshirts? The closest we saw to this in the toy line was a six-pack of basic G.I. Joe infantry troopers, with space on their file cards to be named whatever the buyer wanted to call them. This was one of the original-style Toys "R" Us exclusive six-packs that turned up in the line during 2002-2006. Another three such soldiers appeared in a subsequent six-pack alongside some individual characters, including Snake-Eyes and Roadblock.

Unfortunately, these figures weren't exactly a highlight of the line. Although dressed in rather generic colors, which all six figures shared, the primary green color used on them was hardly a traditional military green, and some of the parts used were rather odd choices. Why give a generic G.I. Joe soldier the torso of the Cobra HISS Driver?

Perhaps the worst point was the paint jobs, which were easily some of the sloppiest in the entire history of the line. Some of these figures had hair that looked like it had been painted by a squirt gun. Sadly, this set was frequently compared to a previous set of Cobra Infantry Troopers that had fared far better in almost all respects, and the G.I. Joe infantry set is not very well-regarded by fans and collectors.

There was a boxed set in the modern line that featured some basic G.I. Joe troopers, which was certainly a step up from the previous attempt -- it could hardly have been otherwise -- but it does seem as though that a basic type of non-code-named soldier force has had a heck of a time getting established within the G.I. Joe concept. On the one hand, the G.I. Joe team is all about individual specialists, so this is understandable. On the other hand, when you're up against a global threat like Cobra, it's fine and well to place the main burden of dealing with them on the backs of these specialists, but they're still going to want someone to have their backs, and in fairness, the United States Armed Forces are dealing with all sorts of threats. Better if that back-up force is specifically dedicated to backing up the G.I. Joe team.

The line based around the sequel movie, G.I. Joe Retaliation, seems to have finally found a G.I. JOE TROOPER that works well. Certainly in the toy line for the last movie, there was no shortage of merchandise that never turned up on the screen, but was still a good fit and abundantly cool.

As the Retaliation line unfortunately lacks extensive file cards, we can only base what we know about the G.I. Joe Trooper from a couple of short sentences on the back of his package card. This reads: "The G.I. JOE TROOPER is armed for action with enough weapons to win any battle! With his mask and survival cloak, he can withstand the most brutal battle conditions on Earth."

So, that's good to know. I think it would be fair to say that if there were a more extensive file card for this G.I. Joe Trooper, it would likely describe him as a highly-trained, if non-specialized, soldier who has been abundantly equipped to back up the main players of the G.I. Joe team in their ongoing conflict with Cobra, and probably has Cobra a bit worried, since instead of facing a large group of individualized specialists, they now have to deal with a considerable and impressive backup force as well, well-trained and well-equipped, and who knows how many of them there might actually be?

So, how's the figure? Very impressive. Likening this figure to the first rather unfortunate generic G.I. Joe soldier is a little like comparing the efforts of an art school graduate to those of a kindergarten finger-painter. Okay, so I'm touchy about sloppy paint jobs...

The G.I. Joe Trooper definitely has a rather generic look about him, but that doesn't mean he looks like someone who should be underestimated. I wouldn't want to face one of these guys in a fight. Line up half a dozen of them on the opposite side of me, and you won't need to bring in Duke or Roadblock. I'll just surrender right there, thank you very much, and could you please point those guns in another direction?

The G.I. Joe Trooper is dressed mostly in a light olive green jumpsuit, very nicely detailed, and certainly a far more military-looking green than the color used on that years-ago six-pack. We've gotten used to seeing our real-life soldiers dressed more in desert camouflage in recent years, which is appropriate enough, but various shades of olive green still have plenty of legitimate military look to them.

The G.I. Joe Trooper is wearing a black harness over his torso, which has multiple straps and belts, padded shoulders, and what looks like a protective, ridged chestplate. There are several equipment pouches and what look like a couple of grenades on this piece, which is molded separately and attached to the figure during assembly. It can be removed, but why bother? It looks cool in place.

The G.I. Joe Trooper is wearing black gloves and shoes, and dark metallic gray knee pads. Interestingly, there's very little painted detail on the figure. The gloves, boots, and knee pads seem to be about it for the uniform, and yet it still looks very cool. Most of the detail comes from the sculpt, which is very nicely done, and manages to have a few semi-futuristic details here and there without losing its military look, such as a couple of sculpted lines on the upper arms, and some unusual-looking wristbands.

From the neck up, however, the G.I. Joe Trooper becomes a little more fanciful. We must also address the fact that there are two versions. One of these has a blue collar, and this is also the version presented in the photographs on the package. However, there is a variant out there, an otherwise identical figure, who has a tan collar. Admittedly, the tan blends in a bit better, while the blue is a little more fanciful, as I said.

Then there's the helmet that the figure is wearing -- one of three heads that the figure comes with -- and it definitely has a fanciful and futuristic look to it. Frankly, it looks like it's about half a step removed from the one worn by Master Chief in the Halo video games. But, what the heck, the Halo armor isn't as implausible as some people might think it is, and I've always been a fan of the design, so I'm not complaining.

The helmet, which is the same light olive color as the uniform, covers the entire head, and has a metallic blue visor across the front, and a cap-like top with a brim extending over the visor. The rest of the helmet details are rather angular and definitely have a science-fiction look to them, but they still look extremely cool.

As to the other two heads that the G.I. Joe Trooper comes with. One is an unhelmeted head. This is the G.I. Joe Trooper "unmasked", as it were. It's a fairly straightforward head, an excellent and nicely detailed sculpt, of what I would describe as a basic young soldier, with a serious and determined expression on his face. Details such as eyes and eyebrows have been very neatly painted. I'm always impressed when such small details come out this well.

The most unusual aspect of the "unhelmeted" head is the hair. The figure's head has been completely shaved on the sides and back, leaving only a rather angular mohawk on the top. The hair color is light brown. Now, this is more than a little odd, as far as I'm concerned, but it is a hairstyle that I have seen soldiers adopt from time to time, so it's not without precedent. And for all I know, it's a standard cut for basic soldiers assigned to the G.I. Joe team. I'll say this -- it beats the heck out of an orange-and-magenta uniform...

The third head is technically a helmet designed to be fitted over the unhelmeted head. This is where the reference on the back to the "survival cloak" comes into play, and once again, we have to deal with the two color variants. The helmet is either dark blue or tan, with a metallic red visor. Interesting choice of colors. There are two extensions near the front of the helmet which one might assume contains an air supply, or at least filters of some sort.

The G.I. Joe Trooper also comes with a dark blue or tan plastic cape, molded to be worn as if it's hanging off one arm. This is obviously the "survival cloak", which one assumes in "real life" the Trooper could wrap around himself entire to protect himself from -- well, whatever either Cobra or the elements themselves might throw against him. It does give the Trooper a less soldierish look, and he almost looks as though he could infiltrate Cobra dressed like this, but it's some interesting equipment.

The question arises -- which version of this figure is more common? Which is more scarce? And honestly, I don't have the slightest idea. The package artwork features the blue collar and accessories. However, I personally have seen the tan version in the stores a bit more often, and I do mean "a bit". Which one is more common or scarce than the other is just a little irrelevant when one considers the fact that as a very impressive G.I. Joe "army-builder" figure, and for that matter one of the very few good-guy "army-builders" the line has ever had, these G.I. Joe Troopers are vanishing from the shelves faster than you can say "Yo Joe!" and nobody's being terribly picky about collar-and-cape-color.

Now, you want equipment? You like accessories? The G.I. Joe Trooper's package states that he is "Loaded with Action Gear" -- and brother, they're not kidding. Visible in the package are three different rifles, but that's just the start. Attached to the right side of his belt -- and in the case of the ones that I bought, not wanting to stay put all that well, but your results may vary -- is a double sheath with two small, removable knives.

On top of all that, the G.I. Joe Trooper comes with a backpack that has a variety of equipment molded to it, but also has four separate holsters with four-count-em-four removable pistols! So basically, this figure comes with SEVEN assorted firearms. That might be a record for a G.I. Joe figure. Throw in the two knives, and yeah, I'm not picking a fight with this guy.

One other removable component on the backpack is a small shovel -- painted orange. So I guess orange managed to work its way in here after all. It's a nice shovel, but I would like to know what's up with this color...

Of course, articulation is excellent. The only articulation-deficient figures that have turned up in the Retaliation line have been some of the vehicle drivers. That doesn't include this guy. The G.I. Joe Trooper is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows (including a swivel) wrists, mid-torso (nicely concealed by the harness), legs, knees, and ankles. The ankle articulation is interesting in that it emanates not from the shoes, but from the rather low-slung pants cuffs. You almost can't see it, but it has a substantial and impressive range of motion.

So, what's my final word? After several various portrayals in comics, animation, and toys, some of which have worked better than others, and a couple of which were not very good at all, I think we finally have a truly effective and impressive G.I. Joe Trooper in this figure. I think he looks best with the "Halo" type helmet in place, which admittedly gives him a sort of futuristic, sci-fi look from the neck up, but at the same time, that sort of works for G.I. Joe, and overall, he certainly looks like a soldier. I can readily see fans and collectors wanting to "army-build" this fellow, and I hardly blame them. It's an excellent figure across the board, and I sincerely believe that any G.I. Joe fan will be pleased with him.

The G.I. JOE RETALIATION figure of the G.I. JOE TROOPER definitely has my highest recommendation!